Special Alert: DC Memo Points to Huge Security Gaps, Poor Training Standards at U.S. Security Associates

 

Several Washington, DC media outlets — from The Washington Post to Fox 5 Televisionhave been reporting on the failure of U.S. Security Associates (USSA) to prevent multiple simulated security breaches in the District’s high-profile public buildings.

The media scrutiny stems from an internal Government of the District of Columbia memo — obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Stand for Security — that reveals both huge security gaps and poor training standards at USSA.

From July 2010 to May 2011 undercover personnel working on behalf of DC’s Protective Services Police Department (PSPD) made several attempts to penetrate security operations run by USSA and/or its subcontractor Watkins Security, at 16 different public facilities. During the exercises, designed to test the reliability of security operations, undercover personnel were able to:

  • Enter without showing identification.
  • Enter with a cell-phone bomb.
  • Enter with a simulated pipe bomb.
  • Drive in restricted areas.
  • Smuggle in a simulated explosive hidden in a book.

USSA failures were widespread. In at least 12 public buildings, USSA either failed to detect the penetration or did not follow proper protocol when they did. All told, there were at least 31 failures.

To clients, USSA touts its long-distance “USA Security Academy,” in which “trainees across the nation participate in LIVE interactive training programs via web and video based conferencing.” The “state of the art training studio” is “the cornerstone of our national training and development efforts.” But in DC, several tests revealed what appear to be poor training standards at the company. According to the memo:

  • “Recruit #1 entered the listed location carrying a black bag with a simulated pipe bomb. The Officer at this location detected the pipe bomb but had no knowledge what police action to take once the bomb was discovered.”
  • “Recruit #1 entered the lobby of the listed location, placed a black bag on the x-ray machine. The Officers [sic] at this location was able to detect the bomb in the bag. The Officers had no idea which person in line had placed the bag on the machine. The Officer went down the line asking is this your bag?”
  • “Recruit #1 entered the listed location and placed a black bag on the x-ray machine. The Officers at this location detected the bomb in the bag but fail [sic] to follow proper procedure in securing the bag once the bomb was discovered.”

This is not the first time USSA has failed security penetration tests in Washington, DC. As we wrote last June, a May 28, 2010 internal USSA memo revealed that, “each time PSD conducted a penetration exercise, we have failed.” The author of the memo then threatens security officers. “You can and will be relieved of your posts if you continue to fail the Protective Service Penetration exercises,” he writes.

USSA may again try to blame its failures on security officers. But the latest internal memo reveals that company training is responsible for security gaps in DC’s public buildings.

Our nation’s capital deserves better than USSA.

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